5.7 mile loop along the bay, then through an industrial area before returning
to more natural low grassy hills.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.7 mile loop hike is very easy, with about 10 feet in elevation
change. Almost all the trails are flat. A few climb and descend gently.
Dirt trails and paved sidewalks.
2 1/2 hours.
Nice any time; good birdwatching in winter.
From US 101 in Santa Clara County, exit Embarcadero. Drive east on Embarcadero
about 0.8 mile, then turn left at the T intersection. Drive about 0.3 mile,
to the second parking lot on the left, near the Duck Pond.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 6'28.32"W
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Services available off US 101. No camping.
No parking or entrance fees. Parking in paved lots, with other parking areas
in a few other places throughout the park. Two designated handicapped parking
spots in this lot, with good access to trails for folks in wheelchairs.
There are portable toilets at this trailhead, and you'll find drinking water
and maps at the Interpretive Center (when it's open). There is no direct
public transportation to this trailhead.
Preserve is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs are permitted on leash only
(restricted from some areas). Cyclists and hikers share all trails (some
paths are restricted to bikes during burrowing owl nesting season). Horses
are permitted, but this is not a popular equestrian preserve.
The Official Story:
City of Palo Alto's Baylands
Park office 650-329-2506
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from Bay Trail website (download the pdf)
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder,
and Frances Spangle (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and a few hike descriptions.
photos from this hike.
you've spent time in some of the south bay shoreline
parks and preserves, you could easily identify Palo Alto's Baylands Preserve
as a bayfront park exclusively by the company it keeps. A golf course,
sewage treatment plant, dump, and airport neighbor Baylands. Many waterfront
parks are situated next to one rather unpleasant property, but Baylands
seems to have inherited them all.
Bayland's golfers, airplanes, and dump trucks
can provoke some unorthodox hike choices. The preserve's longest and most
logical loop (described below), is a good, bad, and ugly tour through
the whole park (and then some), but since the mileage is substantial,
it's good choice for runners. If you want to avoid the earmarks of civilization,
you may want to take a series of out-and-back treks on San Francisquito
Creek and Adobe Creek trails. You can turn back before the airport, or
before reaching US 101, and see many birds (and perhaps some jackrabbits)
along these trails. If you can bear a 3/4 mile stretch along Highway 101,
you can extend a hike out of Baylands to adjacent Shoreline
at Mountain View, for a 5 mile loop. A logical place to start this
trek is at the Byxbee
Park trailhead, although you can also begin on an out-and-back trail from
the Duck Pond.
Start at the north end of the Duck Pond
parking lot. A nicely-groomed path departs to the left, heading around
the pond, but instead take the unmarked trail to the right. After
a few steps a path breaks off to the right. Stay to the left. In
spring, tall yellow-tipped mustard plants line the flat dirt trail. The
unnamed trail sweeps to the right, following the contour of the waterway
on the left. At 0.20 mile, you'll reach the road. Turn left, cross
the bridge, at 0.23, turn left again.
A gate marks the beginning of San Francisquito
Creek Trail. At 0.28 mile you'll pass the Interpretive Center on the right.
If you need a map, stop in and pick one up. Once past the center the broad
trail heads northwest. You might see stilts and avocets in the water to
the left. Fennel, dock, and pickleweed are common along the trail. As
San Francisquito Trail draws close to Palo Alto Airport, you'll get an
up front and personal view of small planes landing, and a sign warns visitors
to stay on the trail. A sharp turn to the right routes the trail
away from the runway, and San Francisquito Creek Trail adopts a straight
course, with the airport to the left, and a waterway on the right. Coyote
brush, tree tobacco, mustard, fennel, wild radish, blue elderberry, and
poison hemlock line the trail. At 1.09 miles, you'll reach an unmarked
T junction. Turn left.
It's a strange contrast -- planes take off
directly overhead and at the same jackrabbits scatter throughout trailside
vegetation. I saw 7 jackrabbits in this area on a May hike. As San Francisquito
Creek Trail heads west along its namesake stream, you'll have good views
to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once past the airport, Palo Alto Municipal
Golf Course comes into view on the left. At 1.53 miles, you'll reach a
signed junction near a footbridge. Turn left, remaining on San
Francisquito Creek Trail.
The trail is paved here, and still flat, as it
travels along the creek, with mostly domesticated plants lining the trail.
There is some poison oak, and you might also notice eucalyptus, pine,
and tree tobacco. San Francisquito Trail seems
to end somewhat abruptly, at Baylands Athletic Center. Cross the parking
lot and pick up "the trail" again, here a sidewalk along Geng
Road. The golf course still sprawls on the left, but soon offices and
industrial parks line both sides of the road. At 2.33 miles the trail
splits, just before Embacadero Road. In hindsight it appears that the
correct route is to stay right, cross Embarcadero Road, then turn left.
I crossed Embarcadero in the middle of the block, and although there is
a trail marker, strangely there is no crosswalk at the spot. Walk on
the sidewalk along Embarcadero to the junction with Faber Place at
2.41 miles, then turn right.
The walk on Faber Place's sidewalk is brief,
and at 2.55 miles, the pavement ends and the paved path picks up again.
Renzel Trail drifts south through familiar vegetation, a mix of fennel,
wild radish, and coyote brush, with a few shrubs of sagebrush. At 2.68
miles, a path breaks
off to the right. Continue straight. As you make progress on the
level trail, you'll draw close to Highway 101 and Bayshore Road. At 2.83
miles, you'll reach an unsigned multi-path junction. Continue straight.
Now the path arches right and runs parallel to Bayshore Road, with US
101 just beyond. This is one of the few bay area trails that made me want
to take up sprint running. On the left side, there's a pretty jumble of
aquatic plants, and you might see ducks and red-winged blackbirds, apparently
unfazed by the traffic. Some weedy flowers bloom along here in spring,
including chicory and salsify. At 3.31 miles, the torture ends, at a signed
junction. Turn left onto Adobe Creek Trail.
Matadero Creek is hidden by a wall of vegetation
on the right, where you might see a few buckeye and ash trees, as well
as poison hemlock, fennel, willow, and coyote brush. The wide gravel trail
soon leaves the noise of US 101 behind, and enters an area where wetlands
stretch north, and the flood control basin lies to the south. Interpretive
signs along the trail explain the Palo Alto Marsh Enhancement
Project, and the creatures that live in Baylands, including the salt marsh
harvest mouse. Hills rise up on the left -- these are part of the refuse
area, landfill that has been shaped and covered with grass. You may see
more jackrabbits in this part of the preserve. Mayfield Slough comes into
view on the right, and the trail follows the watercourse northeast. At
4.42 miles, you'll reach a junction with the first of the hilltop trails.
Look for birds including ducks and
geese in the slough to the right. At 4.64 miles, another trail departs
uphill to the left, from a signed junction. Turn left.
The narrow path is closed to dogs and cyclists
April 1 to July during burrowing owl nesting season. Climbing easily,
the trail passes a loud fenced industrial something-or-other on the left,
then ascends to a plateau. This part of Baylands, also managed by Palo
Alto, is called Byxbee Park Hills. There are nice views east. In May,
the only diversion in a sea of tall dry grass was two bunches of California
The trail curves right, keeping a level pace. When I hiked here in May
I was stopped dead in my tracks by a loud steady hissing. After about
10 seconds, I heard it again. And then again. Certainly not a rattlesnake.
Perhaps an escaped mongoose? No, it seemed to be coming from a methane
vent, off the trail to the right. At 4.89 miles, you'll reach a signed
junction. Continue straight.
After only a few steps, the trail splits,
at 4.92 miles. Although either fork will work, bear left. The trail
descends easily, ending at an unsigned junction at 4.97 miles. Turn
The wide flat trail sweeps right, nearing
the recycling center. At 5.18 miles, just before the road, the trail veers
right. Now you'll walk along the road, passing the sewage treatment plant
on the left. At 5.39 miles, at a T junction, a path heads left toward
Embarcadero Road. Turn right.
A few more interpretive panels line the
path, along with coyote brush. Before long you'll approach the first Duck
Pond parking lot, and the path reaches the road at 5.58 miles. Cross
the road, and return back to the trailhead past the Duck Pond.
Total distance: 5.68 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, May 8, 2002
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